Season of Mists and Brain Fog

Photo by Niklas Hamann

Five Ways to Clearer Thinking

I was happy to see the sun today. It was a watery sun, diffused through thin cloud. Better than nothing, I thought, and beautiful in its own, autumnal way.

By coincidence the subject of a different kind of cloudiness – brain fog – came up in my first appointment of the day. While we might expect brain fog in neuro-degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s, it is a symptom reported extremely often by people with other conditions.

My functional-medicine assessment usually clarifies how and why this might be happening for the individual. Hormonal, nutritional and a host of other imbalances can be at play. Dietary, supplement and lifestyle modifications are then tailored accordingly. This is personalised nutritional therapy at its finest. But there are some common steps that are useful for everyone. I’m listing them here as, though they are simple enough, they are easily overlooked.

1. Walk – you might not be up for a marathon, but getting out for a daily walk is the simplest thing you can do for your brain. It’s surprising how easily work and other commitments crowd out this important act.
If you can actually exercise, all the better. But don’t forget that even a fit person damages their health if they spend hours sitting without a break.
The important thing is, our blood vessels and, in fact, all our cells need some ‘squishing’ every day and the only way we can do that is if we get our body moving. See it as getting blood and oxygen to your brain.

2. Reduce sugar – yes, I know, you’ve heard it all before. But did you know there’s a link between high blood glucose levels and cognitive decline? One study found blood glucose was abnormally raised ten years before people with cognitive decline were diagnosed. We’re talking about long-term health here, but watching sugar intake is also crucial in the short term: sugar highs and lows can mean highs and lows for the brain’s fuel supply. If you want clear thinking, you would do better running your brain on non-sugar foods. Think unprocessed meat, fish, nuts, eggs, olives, avocado and some daily doses of green and coloured veg.

3. Tackle stress – short, sharp stress can make us stronger. Chronic, unremitting stress = inflammation, subpar health, subpar brain function. What can you do to handle stress better? Are you fitting in your down time? Frazzled is not how we want our brain to be.

4. Use your brain – crosswords, sudoku, writing, reading, theatre, concerts, debates, singing, learning, playing an instrument. What could you do that’s new, to keep your brain on its toes?

5. Don’t skimp on sleep – if you regularly ride the second-wind at bedtime instead of turning in, you are abusing an age-old mechanism we have as humans that was designed to wake us up to run away from danger. Focus on how to wind down instead – a novel, a bath? Don’t borrow time from your sleep time – the debt will catch up on you and your brain will be in the line of fire.

Simple? Not so simple? What action can you take right now to give your brain a helping hand?